The Inside NU spring guide is back as we get set for Northwestern's spring football practice. Practice starts February 25 and runs through the spring "game" on April 11, with a break for finals and the school's regularly scheduled spring break. We'll run through each position unit to let you know what to watch once practice begins.
Returning Starters: Adam DePietro (Jr.) (started one game in 2014), Eric Olson (Jr.), Matt Frazier (Sr.), Geoff Mogus (Sr.)
Other Returning Players: Graham Bullmore (So.), J.B. Butler (RS Fr.), Sam Cloverdale (So.), Tommy Doles (RS Fr.), Blake Hance (RS Fr.), Shane Mertz (Sr.), Brad North (So.), Ian Park (Jr.), Kenton Playko (Jr.)
Incoming Recruits: Jared Thomas, Adam Lemke-Bell, Andrew Otterman
Biggest Question: Who will step up?
Northwestern lost the anchor of its offensive line for the past four seasons in center Brandon Vitabile when his career as a Wildcat ended after the past season. Vitabile, although somewhat small for an offensive lineman, left a massive void to fill and Northwestern has a handful of relatively inexperienced linemen competing to plug that hole and others (including the loss of tackle Paul Jorgensen) along the offensive front.
Brad North is a talented interior linemen that could step up and be Northwestern's center if neither Matt Frazier nor Geoff Mogus move to center from their guard positions.
For most of the past couple of seasons, Pat Fitzgerald has been pleading with the veteran offensive linemen to step up but that has yet to happen. Don't be surprised to see some of the younger, more athletic linemen to earn the starting jobs at both tackle positions. On the left side, Blake Hance has the athleticism to take over and be an effective pass-blocker for the next few years. Tommy Doles is a little more of an unknown, but, according to those in the program, he has been making strides as a blocker and could grow into the starting right tackle.
Center and the tackles are the most pressing issues on the offensive line. As mentioned above, North could be the the front-runner at the center position. But that also depends on whether Frazier or Mogus is moved to center. If one of them does, the entire line could see a shakeup. On the outside, Hance and Doles will try to hold off veterans Eric Olson, Shane Mertz and Adam DePietro. It could shape up to be one of if not the most competitive position battle in the spring.
Our best guess at the depth chart
LT - Blake Hance, Shane Mertz, Adam DePietro, Kenton Playko
LG - Geoff Mogus, Adam DePietro, Ian Park
C - Brad North, Frazier/Mogus
RG - Matt Frazier, Adam DePietro, Ian Park
RT - Tommy Doles, Eric Olson, Adam DePietro, Kenton Playko